Saturday, July 26, 2008

Grinding It Down

After 42 miles in the service of bike transpo yesterday, I rolled into the driveway at almost 9 p.m. last night.

Impatient cats milled around the basement. The one with 27% more toes than ordinary cats launched at me and stapled herself to the middle of my back in case I was going back out the door. I think she thinks I won't notice she's there. You'd think all the screaming and writhing around would tip her off that her cover was blown.

The ride was split around a full-length work day. I rode the usual morning commute and put in the usual eight hours standing up. I used to hate my office job because I had to sit all day. That and I had to work some 15-18-hour shifts putting the newspaper out.. I don't miss the 9 a.m. to 6 a.m. thing, but I do miss sitting down.

The run from Wolfeboro to Gilford isn't the prettiest in the area. It has some beautiful parts, but it also has some harsh and terrifying ones.

Getting out of Wolfeboro on 28 south a rider has to deal with three or four miles of narrow lanes, no shoulder, a steep dropoff at the pavement edge, and heavy summer and commuter traffic.

From the center of town the road climbs relentlessly. It is not steep enough to make the motorists perceive it as much of a hill, but it saps a cyclist. About a mile out the road bends right and drops steeply enough to allow a road rider to hit the upper 20s and low 30s with ease. Unfortunately, the cars all want to do 40-50. Fifty usually stays out of their grasp, but they'll take 45 for as long as they can. So you're hammering along on rough pavement, avoiding the chunks taken out of the edge, trying to coordinate with the impatient hordes. They can sense clear running room after steaming bumper to bumper in the crawl through the heart of the village. Most of them would just as soon kill anyone who gets in their way at that point. Or so it seems, anyway.

About half a mile down, the road makes a blind, dropping right around a building that probably didn't seem like that much of an impediment to navigation a hundred years ago when people didn't hurtle around in little rocket ships. If you can get the right line, the turn will take everything you can give it. If you miss that line you could smash in half a dozen ways to the inside or outside. Consequently, I seldom go into it at full power. I think I've managed to get the line once at speed and only a few times at all. You need to take control of the lane far enough ahead of the turn to set up well to the left. Chunks out of the apex, and that encroaching building, put the fastest line near mid-lane. Because the outrun continues and steepens the descent, you need to come out of the turn on full alert for crappy pavement that will toss you as you scramble to the right. The road straightens enough for the impatient drivers you dusted in the turn to hammer up on you again. They want their road back.

No point in antagonizing the motoring public on the continuing descent. It terminates abruptly in the brutal upslope of L'Alpe de Suez. Old timers call the hill Old Perc (Perk? I've never seen it written, only heard it pronounced). Younger cyclists nicknamed it L'Alpe de Suez, because the seasonal restaurant East of Suez stands almost at the summit. Anyone you pissed off will have ample time to savor your agony and add their personal touch to it as you grind your way up the punishing wall.

Getting out of Wolfeboro is absolutely the worst part of the ride. I'd like to say it gets steadily better from there, but it doesn't. It gets instantly better once you crest L'Alpe. Route 28 sprouts a full-width shoulder. You can push the pace or not. Then you can peel off at Chestnut Cove Road or continue on to 28A. Chestnut Cove is a quiet, woodsy lane. It cuts off the first drop on 28A, which is good for a coasting 45 miles per hour, at the cost of more miles on the wide highway. I prefer the woodsy lane, since there's still plenty of 28A's twisty, predominantly downhill run to the southern tip of Alton Bay.

Alton Bay was both delightful and hard to take. It was a festive summer evening. Crowds of holiday visitors from near and far clustered around the many restaurants offering all kinds of seasonal fare. Smells of fried this and grilled that permeated the atmosphere. That was the hard part. I needed to beat sunset to Gilford, which shouldn't be hard if I kept moving, but left me no time to stop and savor the tastes that went with the odors. I'd tried to eat well through the day, but my final supplement had been an out-of-date Luna bar from a box of expired food that had been thrown to the beasts in the workshop several days before. Calories are calories, but taste is something else entirely. I tried not to think about it.

Beyond Alton Bay the road opens up to highway again for a stretch, with expansive views over the lake. But then it necks down to shoulderless hell for a few more miles, while the drivers all try to stay at highway speeds. Failing that, they at least don't want to be stuck behind some sweaty moron on a bicycle for more than a few seconds at most.

It was a beautiful evening, but by the time I reached Ellacoya I was pretty well fried. I sprinted for the safety of the widening shoulder as the last trapped motorists jetted past on my left.

When I reached the garage where my car had been repaired, Rich (the mechanic who is worth going through all this to reach) had another customer. Looking at where he was reaching and the color of the stuff dripping onto the tarmac, I knew this poor guy had a rusted-out transmission oil cooler. Welcome to New England. Within a few minutes, though, I was able to pay my bill and get underway as a motorist.

I was pretty hungry. I didn't want to stop for food,because I had plenty of food at home, 40-odd miles away. When I'm doing something that interests me, I'm pretty good at meditating through hunger. If I'm doing some boring crap I haven't a prayer of staving off the snack impulse. Driving is boring crap, but I was driving as part of my own concocted expedition. With the help of a package of Luna Chick Chews we'd received as a free sample I was able to hold the major munchies at bay for the hour it took to drive home. Note: they don't taste like watermelon, no matter what the label says.

Between the Luna Bar and the Chick Chews I was well in touch with my feminine side as I drove home.

Once I got home I had to feed the cats, shower, feed myself and get to bed. So that got me to 11:30 easily. It was closer to midnight once I stretched almost as much as I needed to after the long, strenuous day.

0600, the alarm goes off this morning. Yesterday had been stunningly gorgeous after the previous day's thunderstorms and tornadoes. The forecast for today was almost as good.

"Aren't you tired? Don't you want to drive?"

"I already hurt. Why should I be miserable in a car on top of it?"

Never skip a ride because you're tired. Skip a race, maybe, because you're a menace to yourself and others if you try to compete when you're baked, but never skip a ride just because you're tired.

Yes, I had no reserves. My muscles felt delightfully spent. But I know they'll feel better after the steady load they got today, without brutal climbs or frantic sprints like a small fish desperately dashing for the cover of water weeds in front of the snapping jaws of a big, shiny predator. It was just my familiar commuting route on a really beautiful morning. I would hate myself for wasting that, looking dumbly out at it through auto glass.

Tomorrow I could need the rain bike again. The heavy fixed gear demands that I gear down my mind even on a good day. But it still beats driving. Just about everything beats driving.

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